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Stinging Nettles - Weedy Superhero!

Image by Thomas1311 from Pixabay 


Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is considered by many to be a common weed – but it is anything but common. In fact you might even call it a “superhero” amongst weeds! Rich in nutrients this plant has a long traditional of use as a food, for medicine and for making household items such as fabric.


Growing and Harvesting


Stinging nettle is a small perennial plant reaching about two to three feet in height with an erect stem which bear dark green leaves that are marked by serrated margins. The nettle gives out small and inconspicuous flowers when in bloom. During the late spring and early summer season, the aerial parts of the herb, especially the leaves, are gathered. Autumn is the time when nettle seeds and roots are harvested and used in the preparation of various herbal remedies.

Image by nurfe / Pixabay


Nettles as Food


Nettle is a very nutritious and blood-purifying spring green and can be cooked like spinach.  They are highly nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, silica and potassium, and have been used for centuries as a nourishing tonic for weakness and debility, convalescence and anemia. They are rich in chlorophyll and contain approximately the same amounts of carotene and vitamin C as spinach or other similar greens. You should harvest it when it is only six to eight inches tall for the best nutritional results. Mature plant, are high in silica and can have a gritty taste. To eliminate nettles sting before adding to any dish calling for spinach or other greens, simply blanche them lightly in boiling water and pat dry.


Nettles History


The botanical generic name Urtica means 'from burning' or 'to burn', this refers to the chemically irritating hairs on its leaves. Because of this irritation or “sting” to the skin nettles have often been cursed rather than praised. But in reality even the sting (which comes from formic acid found in the plant) is helpful.


Throughout history it has been used as a rubefacient or counter –irritant to bring blood to an area of the body to warm & heal it. In fact brave souls have also flayed themselves with fresh nettles to treat rheumatism and it was supposedly introduced into England by the macho Romans, who brought it along to rub on their skin and help keep them warm.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Source)

One of the original names for nettles is "netel" and it is thought to be derived from "noedl" or "needle."  Likely this referred to the plant's needle-like sting, but it might also be linked to the fact that nettle once made into thread & fabric. The northern European countries used the nettle plant as the source for most of their thread. At one time it was reputed that nettle cloth was more durable than any other species of linen, making the best sheets, tablecloths and other linens. Nettle were used extensively during World War I because of a cotton shortage - sails, uniforms, sacking, fishing nets, rope, paper, cloth, velvet and plush have all been made from it.

The West Coast Salish People used nettle fibre in creating a range of products. Twine made from the bark of nettle stems was used extensively in the manufacture of items requiring strength through a firm, sturdy warp strand. This bark was then beaten and combed, or carded into a soft tissue which could be spun with the use of a spindle similar to the spinning of wool. Twine produced from nettle fiber was of great strength and utilized in the making of nets and fishing line, as well as for a warp in weaving.


Historically it has also been used as a rinse for horse’s coats to make them soft and glossy and can be used as a final rinse after shampooing to do the same for your hair. Nettle leaf has been used as a hair and scalp treatment for centuries, and those uses are now being supported by scientific research. These studies suggest that nettle leaf extract appears to promote hair regrowth and thicken hair, as well as reducing dandruff and scalp conditions when used as a rinse.


Image by Mareefe from Pixabay

Traditional Medicinal Uses


Stinging nettle has a long medicinal history and herbalists often say “when in doubt use nettles”. This is simply because it is a gentle, very effective tonic herb that safely works on all systems of the body.


In medieval Europe, diuretics and remedies for joint problems were made from stinging nettle. Healers in several traditions used the branches of stinging nettle to strike the arms or legs of paralyzed patients in order to activate their muscles. This whipping technique is also used in some healing traditions to stimulate the organs and relieve the pain of sore muscles.


Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat rheumatism, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Nettle's key use is as a cleansing, detoxifying herb.


Nettle has a diuretic action, possibly due to its flavonoids and high potassium content, and increases urine production and the elimination of waste products. Through their stimulating action on the bladder and kidneys, nettles help to cleanse the body of toxins and wastes. Nettles relieve fluid retention, bladder infections, stones and gravel. They also help with excretion of uric acid they make an excellent remedy for gout and arthritis as well as skin problems. It also helps in reducing blood pressure, increasing urine output as a diuretic and increasing salt excretion.


Extract of nettle root has become quite popular in recent years for the treatment of urinary retention brought on by benign prostatic hypertrophy In BPH, it relieves urinary symptoms such as reduced urinary flow, incomplete emptying of the bladder, post urination dripping, and the constant urge to urinate.


Nettle is a natural antihistamine and is frequently used to treats hay fever, asthma, itchy skin conditions, and insect bites. The juice can be used to treat nettle stings. It is particularly effective in treating allergic rhinitis, relieving nearly all the symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose. Nettle may act as an expectorant, help clear mucous congestion, relieves allergy-induced asthma and have anti-viral properties.


Nettle is a good astringent and helps check bleeding both internally and out. It can be applied externally to cuts and wounds, hemorrhoids, to nostrils for nose- bleeds, and to soothe and heal burns and scalds.


They have been used to stem heavy menstrual periods, and interestingly to bring on delayed or absent periods. (This is because the plant contains phytosterols, which help balance hormonal function). This hormone action also makes nettle valuable in PMS and as a good restorative remedy during the menopause. The leaves help anemia (especially during pregnancy) and improves breast-milk production.


In the digestive tract nettles help remedy diarrhea, wind, inflammation and ulceration. Nettles also have an action in the endocrine system - they have been found to reduce blood sugar and a tincture of the seeds is said to raise thyroid function and reduce goiter.

Nettle seeds help to support the adrenal glands and the whole endocrine system, and they are considered adaptogenic and are used for a range of conditions. An adaptogenic herb is any herb that helps our body to respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue, and improve our overall well-being. In its most basic form, nettle seeds help the body to recalibrate itself back to its normal function.


It should be mentioned that the medicinal effects of the leaf and root of the nettle are somewhat different. Nettle root, for instance, shows exceptional efficacy in treating prostate complaints in men. Nettle leaf has some of the same effects, but not to the same extent. The leaf, on the other hand, shows some promise in boosting immune system function and is an effective treatment for many skin conditions.


At this time there are no know side effects from using nettles therapeutically but it is recommended that they not be used medicinally by those on blood thinning medications.


Nettle Recipes


Nettle Pate


8 ounces fresh nettle leaves (spinach can be substituted if nettles not available)

1 whole head garlic, peeled

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. melted butter

1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

(If don’t want to use cheese you can add 1/4 cup ground nuts)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss garlic in olive oil and in aluminum foil (or covered oven proof dish) and bake for 45 minutes, or until soft.  Bring 3 inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add nettle, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes, just until wilted and soggy.  Remove from heat and drain. Mix the garlic, nettle, olive oil, and cheese or nuts.  In small batches, use a food processor to process to your desired consistency.  Pour into a small loaf pan or casserole and chill until firm.  (If you want a firmer texture omit olive oil and increase butter by 1 Tbsp.)


Nettle Pesto Spread

4 cups (packed) fresh nettle leaves

1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

4 ½ Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

3 Tbsp. capers, (with juices)

1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (unsalted)

2 Tbsp. chopped shallots

1 Tbsp. chopped garlic

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 ½ cups vegetable oil


Steam nettles for 3 minutes (until just tender and sting is gone) and pat as dry as possible.  In a food processor, process nettles, basil, lemon juice and capers with juices until nettles and basil are coarsely chopped.  Add pumpkin seeds, shallots, garlic and mustard.  Process until finely chopped.  With machine running, add oil gradually, until completely incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate for 2 hours, with plastic wrap covering surface of spread.  Great on French bread!


Creamy Nettle Soup


¼ cup butter

8 cups nettles, tops or young leaves

1 large or 2 medium onions, finely sliced

1 large carrot, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 large garlic clove, crushed

1 liter chicken or vegetable stock

3 tablespoons cooked rice

2 tablespoons cream or crème fraiche

salt and freshly ground black pepper


To Garnish:

A little extra cream or crème fraiche

A small bunch of chives, chopped

A few sprigs of chervil or parsley, chopped


Pick over the nettles and wash them thoroughly. Discard only the tougher stalks, as the soup will be liquidized. Melt the butter in a large pan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic until soft but not brown. Add the stock and pile in the nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until the nettles are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Puree the soup in a blender with the cooked rice (you will probably have to do this in 2 batches). Return to a clean pan, stir in the cream and reheat, but do not let it boil. Check the seasoning, then serve, garnishing each bowl with a swirl of cream and a generous sprinkling of chopped herbs.


Carrot Nettle Cake


1 cup white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups shredded carrots

2/3 cup steamed and chopped nettles

1 14 oz. can drained pineapple pieces

1/2 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts)



2/3 cup cream cheese

1/4 cup softened butter

1 1/3 cup icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


Steam about 6 cups of nettles for 5 minutes, until wilted. Drain and let cool. When cool to touch, chop finely. In a large bowl sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt. In a separate bowl beat eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla until smooth. Mix wet and dry ingredients until moistened. Mix carrots, nettles, pineapple and nuts so well mixed. Fold in carrots, pineapple, nettles and pecans in wet ingredients. Bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out dry. Let cool.


Beat all icing ingredients until smooth. When cool to the touch spread icing over cake.

Additional resources:

Below are a few websites which share great recipes and craft ideas using nettles.

All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.


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